Reverse Dieting Without Exercise: Is It Okay?

Reverse dieting and exercise can work against one another if we’re not incorporating exercise correctly.

So, is it okay to reverse diet without exercising?  Yes, you can reverse diet without including any form of exercise as long as you didn’t exercise while you were in your dieting phase.  However, if you did exercise while dieting, then continuing to exercise while reverse dieting will be important and necessary.

After reading this article you’ll learn:

  • If you need to exercise to reverse diet
  • Why you might not want to exercise while reverse dieting
  • What to expect if you exercise or not while reverse dieting
  • Tips on how to incorporate exercise while reverse dieting

Reverse Dieting & Exericse

We can reverse diet without exercising or lifting weights, especially if we didn’t do so while we were dieting because we’re not used to accounting for additional calories burned while exercising.

However, if we DID engage in regular physical activity while we were dieting then we do need to keep up with our exercise regime as we begin our reverse diet. 

This is because our body is used to burning a certain number of calories each week as a result of exercise, so if we were to stop exercising we would no longer be burning as many calories as we would need to be at our current baseline.

For example, if we currently maintain our weight after having dieted down when we consume 1800 calories and engage in 3 days a week of strength training, and two 30 minute cardio sessions then this is our baseline.

If we were to stop exercising altogether and try to use 1800 calories as our starting point for the reverse diet, we would gain more weight than we would probably like because our exercise was accounting for a certain number of calories burned.

We can slowly start to decrease our activity if we want to as we go along with our reverse diet, but it is not something that we should adjust initially.

To learn more about the number of calories you should be eating when reverse dieting, head over to our reverse dieting calculator!

Reasons Why You Would NOT Exercise During A Reverse Diet

reasons why you would not exercise during a reverse diet

If We Didn’t Exercise Prior To Reverse Dieting

If we didn’t exercise while we were dieting, then we should not start exercising right away when we begin reverse dieting.

When we begin our reverse diet, the primary goal is to figure out our calorie baseline (how many calories we’re currently eating) so that when we start to strategically increase our intake week-to-week, we can see how our body responds.

To reverse diet effectively we are looking for our body weight to remain the same or increase within a certain range depending on how aggressive we’re being with the reverse diet.

If we add exercise into the mix when it hasn’t been part of our routine, then we won’t be able to establish our calorie baseline and we won’t know if changes in our body weight have to do with the change in calories or the increased activity.

For these reasons, it’s best to hold off on starting to exercise if we haven’t been exercising previously.

If Our Body Fat Percentage Is Dangerously Low

If we’re reverse dieting because we need to get back to a healthy body fat percentage then it is not useful to exercise because exercising would be working against weight gain when that is what we’re truly needing at that point in time.

If our body fat is below the healthy range (18 to 28% for women, 10 to 25% for men) then we could be more at risk for health issues. If this is the case, it would be best to reverse diet back up to a healthy weight without exercise.

Once we’re back within a healthy body fat range, we could consider slowly adding exercise into our routine, but initially, this shouldn’t be the focus. 

Reverse Dieting With vs Without Exercise: What Can You Expect?

When reverse dieting with exercise, especially lifting weights, we can expect to retain more muscle mass than if we were to reverse diet without exercising. This is because when we provide our muscles with a stimulus and enough protein, they are more likely to stick around and make us look our best.

Engaging in exercise is something that we should have been incorporating while we were dieting, rather than something that we start incorporating once reverse dieting.

If we didn’t engage in exercise while we were dieting then we could have lost a significant amount of muscle mass because we weren’t stimulating our muscles as much as they would need and we would have been eating fewer calories.

Unfortunately, if we didn’t engage in regular exercise before the reverse diet, I don’t recommend that we start now because when we first start reverse dieting we need to focus solely on establishing our baseline calories.

If exercise is something we eventually want to start incorporating during our reverse diet, I would recommend slowly adding it after at least 4 weeks of having reverse dieted. 

After 4 weeks, we will have a better understanding of how many calories our body burns on its own and with non-exercise activity (housework, work, daily activities..) and therefore will be better equipped to understand the energy expenditure component that exercise brings to the table.

Tips on Reverse Dieting With Exercise or Lifting

tips on reverse dieting with exercise or lifting

Maintain Current Exercise Routine

For the first 4 weeks of reverse dieting, we should maintain our current fitness routine so that we’re controlling for the amount of energy we are expending through movement while we adjust our calories.

After 4 weeks have passed we will likely have a better understanding of how many calories our body utilizes and then we can adjust our exercise a little at a time to see how things change.

For example, If our current routine is 3 days of strength training with two 30 minute sessions of cardio, then once we’re ready to adjust our first change could be to maintain the 3 days of strength and drop down one 30 minute session of cardio for a week to see how this affects our weight.

Adjust Exercise Routine On Weeks When Food Intake Remains Constant

It is recommended to make changes to our exercise routine on weeks when we’re not adjusting our food intake. 

This is because if we adjust both at the same time then we’re probably adjusting things too quickly and will experience more change over the next week than we would want if our goal is to stay relatively lean.

We have to remember that our exercise is just as much a calorie adjustment as our food intake is, therefore it makes more sense to make one calorie adjustment at a time rather than multiple.

Prioritize Strength Training Over Cardio

When we do start to make adjustments, whether it’s adding exercise in after 4 weeks of reversing or cutting back on some activity if we’ve had high levels of activity already, we should always prioritize strength training over cardio.

The goal of strength training is to retain or perhaps gain muscle mass which benefits our metabolism long-term because the more muscle we have in the future, the more calories we will burn and the easier it will be to maintain a leaner physique.

Muscle gain is typically only achievable once we’re taking in enough calories for our body to have some extra to spare to put towards gaining muscle mass.

Cardio expends more calories than strength training and doesn’t build muscle in the way that strength does. Therefore, increasing or starting to add cardio is unproductive while reverse dieting because the goal isn’t to burn calories – instead, the goal is to slowly increase calories. For this reason, cardio should be limited until the reverse diet is complete.

Want to learn whether you should do a reverse diet? Check out my article Who Should & Should NOT Do Reverse Dieting.

Frequently Asked Questions

Should You Exercise While Reverse Dieting?

You should exercise while reverse dieting if you exercised consistently prior to rever dieting, but if you did not exercise consistently beforehand, then you should wait to start exercising so that you can be as precise as possible in the beginning.

Will You See Changes In Your Body Reverse Dieting Without Exercise?

You will see changes in your body when reverse dieting without exercise, but you will likely see fewer positive changes than someone who exercised while dieting and is continuing to exercise while they reverse diet because you would have less overall muscle mass.

Will Your Metabolism Still Increase When Reverse Dieting Without Exercise?

Your metabolism will increase the same with reverse dieting regardless of if you exercise or not, as long as you are consistent with maintaining the same routine while reverse dieting that you did while dieting (at least in the beginning).

Have a FeastGood Nutrition Coach help you get results faster than trying to stick it out alone

Other Reverse Dieting Resources


About The Author

Amanda Parker
Amanda Parker

Amanda Parker is an author, nutrition coach, and Certified Naturopath.  She works with bodybuilders, Olympic weightlifters, and powerlifters to increase performance through nutrition and lifestyle coaching.